Two straight seasons of sub-quota mountain lion hunts suggest the Black Hills puma population is declining.

To keep the Hills thrill quotient high, here come bears:

Wyatt McCoy lives on the banks of the Belle Fourche River.

During the comings and goings of his young life he has seen all of the usual wildlife residents cross the roads in his headlight. Coons hop and bounce, porcupines waddle, coyote and fox lope, and bobcat and lions slink. But last week, he tells his folks that two black bear cubs crossed the road using the curious side-to side shuffle of bear that is distinct to their species [Bob Speirs, "Black Bears Returning to the Black Hills," South Dakota Hunting, 2014.10.09].

Bears! Black bears! Holy sh—

On the same weekend, while guiding an elk hunter along the Wyoming border I discovered further evidence.

We were scanning the trails for two days straight and categorizing all of the sign we came across. The unusual sign we discovered was chalk white, filled with hair, acorns, and bits of bone. I’d seen the same droppings in my several years of hunting around the borders of Glacier Park in Montana. My hunter has taken perhaps a dozen bear hunts during his life in Manitoba, Alaska, and Russia. We both recognized bear sign [Speirs, 2014.10.09].

Hey, Bomgaars! Better start stocking bear-proof trash cans.Kevin Woster reported on the possibility of black bears re-establishing habitat in the Black Hills after a false bear sighting near Keystone in 2010. Speirs says that new logging practices are clearing ponderosa overgrowth and opening more ground for acorn-producing oaks and other plant life that can feed those hungry bears. Expect Betty Olson to propose a bear-hunting season any day now....


Fellow Lake Herman expatriate Elisa Sand wrote this week of two 19-year-olds passing through Aberdeen on a walk from Seattle to New York City. Evidently crossing South Dakota on Highway 12 hasn't given Cameron Coupe and Zan Roman a great impression of South Dakota:

Neither of the two had been to South Dakota, which they found to be flat with "not a lot going on." As a first for the trip, he pair were mistaken for homeless people while eating at a buffet in Aberdeen. An employee who saw them packing up the carts outside told them they had to pay first before sitting down and eating [Elisa Sand, "Teens Stop in Aberdeen on Cross-Country Walk," Aberdeen American News, 2014.07.16].

Not a lot going on? Evidently Coupe and Roman aren't paying attention. There's lots going on; they just seem to be too tired to notice and write it down.

Moose near Tolstoy, South Dakota, June 27, 2014. Photo by Gwen Hettich.

Moose near Tolstoy, South Dakota, June 27, 2014. Photo by Gwen Hettich.

For instance, they could have written about their fellow wanderers in northeastern South Dakota, the moose!

A pair of moose spotted in Potter and Faulk counties could be passing through or looking for a place to call home.

Brown County conservation officer NickCochran said a young bull and young cow have been spotted several times, but it’s not unusual for South Dakotans to see the occasional moose roaming through from northern Minnesota or North Dakota [Elisa Sand, "Moose Pair Continuing Travels in Aberdeen Area," Aberdeen American News, 2014.07.11].

Moose marching through South Dakota! Moose attack people more often than bears attack people! What do we do?

Typically, the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department takes an observatory role.

“We just monitor them and let them do their thing,” he said.

As for the general public, Cochran said, people should be advised to give the moose their space. While they are curious and don’t spook as easily as a deer, a moose will charge if it feels threatened [Sand, 2014.07.11].

The moose have not reported any unpleasant assumptions or discriminatory treatment from buffet staff in Tolstoy or Cresbard. Coupe laments this weekend that he and Roman have walked more miles than raised dollars (1,500 miles, 1,400 dollars for the Seattle Children's Hospital, the ostensible motivation for their transambulation).

But you know, strangers breezing through the state telling stories about helping children and expecting people to hand them money don't have the most sustainable business model.


While we debate why there aren't enough pheasants to shoot, Rep. Dick Werner (R-22/Huron) wants to turn more guns on our ducks. Rep. Werner plans to sponsor legislation that would expand non-residents' ability to get waterfowl licenses. Right now, we distribute non-resident waterfowl licenses by lottery. Werner would like to exempt from the lottery non-residents who have family in South Dakota. If you live in Minneapolis, but your dad lives in Waubay and wants to take you duck hunting, Werner wants to let Dad buy a resident license, then "sponsor" you to buy a non-resident license straight-up, guaranteed.

Werner hasn't floated his draft legislation yet, but he'll need to explain how far "family" would extend. Include siblings, cousins, grandkids, in-laws, and so forth, and one great-grandpa in Hurley could help dozens of non-residents with his DNA jump the waterfowl lottery queue. Stick with Marty Jackley's definition of family, and these privileged "Come Home to Hunt" waterfowl licenses would be limited to parents and children.

Determining the potential number of added hunters is important to determining the ecological wisdom of Rep. Werner's expansion of non-resident waterfowl licenses. Rep. Werner appears to want to increase our exploitation of a natural resource, but he has yet to make the case that there is more of this resource to exploit.

Rep. Werner's legislative neighbor Rep. Charlie Hoffman (R-23/Eureka) has expressed support for Werner's plan and invited discussion thereof on his Facebook page (participation points for Charlie!). He's drawn ayes and nays from constituents. Retired GF&P and National Park Service official John Wrede of Brookings expresses his diametrical opposition to any plan that...

  1. promotes recreational opportunity over conservation;
  2. considers non-resident opportunity over resident
  3. further privatizes a natural resource that belongs to everyone,
  4. increases commercialization of natural resources for personal gain, and
  5. fails miserably to follow the tenets of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and bares no resemblance to honest resource stewardship and protection for which government is duty bound [John Wrede, Facebook comment to Rep. Charlie Hoffman, 2013.12.22].

Wrede says that ducks don't cause farm depradation, numerous wildlife populations are in sharp decline, and handing out more non-resident licenses would only make worse a wildlife situation already damaged by a long trend of prioritizing the commercialization of public resources and the interests of the landed gentry (yes, Wrede says "landed gentry").

Rep. Elizabeth May (R-27/Kyle) responds by calling GF&P and conservationists "control freaks" and imputes to Wrede membership in fascist organizations (yes, Rep. May says "fascist").

Wrede recommends Reps. Werner and Hoffman and the rest of us review State v. Kemp, a 1950 ruling by the South Dakota Supreme Court on whether the state could outlaw all nonresident hunting of migratory waterfowl (the Legislature did that in 1949). The Court held that the state has "considerable leeway in analyzing local evils and in prescribing appropriate cures." The Court then called non-resident hunters evil (yes, they said "evil"):

The local evil in South Dakota was apparent. Thousands of nonresident hunters, lured to South Dakota by an abundance of pheasants, were putting in their idle hours, and their time after getting their limit of pheasants, hunting ducks and geese. There was real danger that natural flyways and breeding ground and nursery for ducks and geese would be subject to excessive hunting and possible destruction. From experience we know that there would be no such influx of hunters except for the pheasant. Obviously the local resident who had his business or profession to occupy him was in entirely a different class from the nonresident hunter who was in South Dakota for the single purpose of hunting. The extent of duck or goose shooting by the resident was not increased or diminished to any appreciable extent by the excellent pheasant hunting. He was at home occupied with his daily tasks, hunting when he wished, but not shooting ducks or geese simply to occupy time that otherwise was not occupied. It is also a fact, too well known in South Dakota, that many nonresident hunters, not all, who have made the trip to this state perhaps at considerable expense are not satisfied unless they get their limit of everything the law allows. We conclude, therefore, that nonresidents constitute a peculiar source of evil at which the statute was aimed. Whether the legislature could prescribe some other cure to meet the evil, to many is not an open question, but be that as it may, if there is to be any leeway left in the state to prescribe an appropriate cure we must conclude that the cure prescribed is appropriate and reasonable [Justice Herbert B. Rudolph, State v. Kemp, No. 9168, 44 N.W.2d 214 (1950), Supreme Court of South Dakota].

We've moderated that 1949 ban to permit a limited number of non-resident hunters to exploit our resources. But we maintain that limit to prevent the "excessive hunting and possible destruction" of waterfowl populations foreseen by the 1950 Court. To make the case for his bill, Rep. Werner will need to go beyond the economic justifications about bringing more hunters and dollars to the state. He'll need to show that increased non-resident hunting is a sustainable activity that promotes conservation.


Farmer and pheasant-hunt host David Gillen opines in the Pierre Capital Journal that the Conservation Reserve Program is bad for pheasants and South Dakota wealth:

Full 160-acre tracts of CRP are not that desirable for young chicks. After a couple years of CRP that is not cut for hay, the amount of plant growth present is too thick for the young chicks to move through. If we get a cold, wet rain or heavy dew when the chicks are small, they get too cold from all the wet plant material around them. The hen will try to move them to an open area for sunshine, but in the large CRP fields, sometimes it is too far to an open area to get warmed up from the sun.

...Pheasant hunting and profitable agriculture creates new wealth in this state for all of us to prosper. CRP destroys wealth by taking tax dollars from people that generate income and pays landowners to idle land that could create new wealth through agriculture [David Gillen, "What You Should Know About CRP: A Farmer's Perspective," Pierre Capital Journal, 2013.12.23].

Gillen serves as a manager at Prairie Ethanol, and he's been president of the South Dakota Corn Growers Association and a board member of the American Coalition for Ethanol. Gillen defends an industry that has done enormous harm to the prairie with its voracious push for ditch-to-ditch, stream-to-stream cultivation of every acre a tractor can reach.

But let's counter Gillen's industry-boosting anecdote with scientists and research. CRP means more pheasants:

More than 800,000 ha of Iowa farmland were enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) from 1986–1991. I evaluated the relationship between CRP enrollment and ring-necked pheasants (Phasianus colchicus) in Iowa and how cropland and weather affected that relationship. Six percent of the land area in Iowa was enrolled in the CRP between 1986 and 1991. Pheasant numbers increased 30% during the first 5 years of the CRP compared to a similar period before the program began (P = 0.026). Numbers increased 34% (P = 0.018) in counties with >70% cropland and 26% (P = 0.12) in counties with 50–70% cropland. I did not detect increases in counties with <50% cropland (P = 0.71). Pheasant numbers were positively related to the CRP, but this function was also influenced by percent cropland and cumulative snowfall [Terry Z. Riley, "Association of the Conservation Reserve Program with Ring-Necked Pheasant Survey Counts in Iowa," Wildlife Society Bulletin, Vol. 23, No. 3 (Autumn, 1995), pp. 386-390].

CRP means more than just pheasants for Gillen's customers to pay to shoot at:

"Goodness, there's thousands of species that live in grasslands, including several hundred species of higher plants," says Carter Johnson, an ecologist at South Dakota State University in Brookings, S.D. Plus, permanent grass cover keeps soil from washing away.

"With those deeps roots that grasses have, and thick thatch, the water has a hard time getting a hold of the soil," says Johnson.

So more land in CRP means cleaner streams, less fertilizer runoff and more carbon stored in the soil [Dan Charles, "Grasslands Get Squeezed as Another 1.6 Million Acres Go into Crops," NPR, 2013.12.22].


In the central USA, more than 90 bird species were documented using CRP plantings during summer breeding periods, with direct evidence of nesting by more than 40 species. Direct comparisons of crop and CRP fields revealed no differences in total number of species occurring in the two habitat types. But CRP fields supported from 1.4 to 10.5 times the number of individual birds as did crop fields. Nest abundance was from 8.8 to 27 times higher in CRP fields than in crop fields. Nest success of songbirds was slightly higher in CRP fields (40%) than in crop fields (36%). Overall, CRP fields produced about 14 times as many songbirds as did rowcrop fields. Several assessments suggest nongame bird populations increased because of the CRP. Duck nesting in cropfields is uncommon. Duck nest densities in CRP fields were similar to those occurring in habitats managed for waterfowl. Duck nest success in CRP fields was equal to or higher than that on lands managed by public agencies for waterfowl. Ring-necked pheasant numbers were three to five times higher after CRP plantings were established. The success of pheasants nesting in CRP fields was greater than that necessary for population growth [Mark R. Ryan, Loren W. Burger and Eric W. Kurzejeski, "The Impact of CRP on Avian Wildlife: A Review," Journal of Production Agriculture, 1998. 11:61–66.].

Gillen's anecdote sounds plausible—wide tracts with dense ground cover may not be ideal for pheasants in wet conditions—but the research seems pretty clear that CRP acres increase bird numbers.


Larry Kurtz is right: Governor Dennis Daugaard's Pheasant Habitat Summit in Huron yesterday was an exercise in absurdity. Daugaard spent time and money gathering hundreds of South Dakotans to fret and stew over the decline of a non-native species caused largely by his own industrial agricultural policies.

Strategic Conservation Solutions logoThe logo of the consulting firm brought in to speak to the issue says it all: one little sprout of green struggling up amidst rigid lines of row crops and pavement.

Larry links and adds his links to an excellent Iowa Public Radio report explaining how the decline of pheasants is all our fault:

As farmers across the Midwest have simplified the landscape and plowed up grassland to grow more corn and soybeans, habitat for pheasants, quail and other grassland birds has become increasingly scarce and their numbers are falling. In Nebraska, wild pheasant concentrations have fallen 86 percent since their peak in the 1960s. The pheasant harvest during hunting season in Iowa is off 63 percent from the highs reached in the 1970s. In areas that used to be overrun, you’ll struggle to find a pheasant now. [Grant Gerlock, "Pheasants Losing Habitat to Farmland," Iowa Public Radio, 2013.12.03].

Not hard to figure out, Dennis. Promote huge monoculture farms and ethanol over small, locally sustainable agriculture, and you're going to have fewer pheasants. And I didn't have to spend any tax dollars to come to that conclusion.


Rep. Kristi Noem is working hard in Washington, reaching across the aisles to support her long-standing effort to tackle tough issues like naming the bison the national mammal:

Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) proposed the bill, H.R. 3400, along with Reps. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.), Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) and Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.).

Their bill finds that bison — often called buffaloes — are an "historical symbol" of the United States. The mammals had to be saved from extinction more than 100 years ago, in the early 20th century, according to the bill [Peter Kasperowicz, "And the Nominee for the National Mammal of the United States Is...," The Hill: Floor Action, 2013.11.01].

With substantive issues like the national mammal taken care of, Rep. Noem and her colleagues can afford to take some time off in 2014:

Congress, the group of esteemed lawmakers who brought you the government shutdown of 2013, has announced that they plan to be in session forfewer days next year.

The news came from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., who announced the schedule on Twitter.

I am pleased to announce the 2014 House calendar:

— Eric Cantor (@GOPLeader) October 31, 2013

Follow the links and you'll get to this handy-dandy schedule (PDF) that lists the days when Congress will be in session. The grand total for 2014: 113 scheduled days. In 2013, the expected total was 126 days [Mike Krumboltz, "Congress Announces It Will Be in Session Fewer Days in 2014," Yahoo News: Sideshow, 2013.10.31].

Maybe Congress really has run out of big issues to deal with. Or maybe the House Republican leadership realizes Kristi and her colleagues will need a lot more time to campaign back home to keep from losing their majority.

Why do I feel like we're about to be buffaloed?

Happy Bison Day!

p.s.: Democratic Congressional candidate Corinna Robinson vows that, whatever committee she is appointed to, she will attend all meetings. No word on whether she'll be on the phone at those meetings.


My friend, Spearfish debate coach, avid outdoorsman, and known Republican Bob Speirs writes the case for saving the historic D.C. Booth Fish Hatchery from the mindless Washington budget axe:

For a budding ornithologist, there are few places in the Black Hills that can compare to the historic fish hatchery grounds for quantity and diversity of bird life. Each of the past few summers has found [Jane] Doerges at the side of Kent Jensen of South Dakota State University as he instructed classes for area youth on the intricacies of mist netting and bird banding.

Over a dozen different species have been captured and one, the Cordilleran flycatcher, is the only specimen of that species Jensen has ever netted in 30 years of study. Doerges is afraid that her Booth bird banding memories are about to end.

...Future scientists and biologists like Jane are nurtured each summer through a student volunteer program called Hatchery Helpers and buses filled with youth daily tour the facility interacting with nature and visiting the world-class fisheries museum.

Ranger Mitch Adams conducts archery lessons. Director Carlos Martinez teaches classes in biology and archivist and fisheries museum curator Randi Smith teaches youth about the importance of historical preservation with hands-on demonstrations. Closure of the D.C. Booth would have long-range ramifications for the recruitment of young naturalists to follow in their footsteps [Bob Spiers, "Operations at the Threatened D.C. Booth Fish Hatchery Go Far Beyond the Feeding of Fish," Rapid City Journal, 2013.08.29].

The D.C. Booth Fish Hatchery doesn't just raise fish. It raises kids who will grow up wanting to protect fish, birds, the outdoors, and history for the enjoyment of generations to come. Call Rep. Noem, Senator Thune, and Senator Johnson and tell them to talk some sense into the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


Well, since Pat says X, I guess I have to say not-X...

Dakota War College portrays the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's enforcement of rules as tyranny against a six-year-old calling for Congressional action.

Six-year-old Madison Grimm from Burbank, South Dakota, won the 2013 national Junior Duck Stamp contest last weekend with a painting of a canvasback duck. Some parents and teachers questioned whether the painting was really young Grimm's own handiwork. The Federal Duck Stamp Service looked into the painting further. Grimm's dad Adam, a wildlife artist himself, said Madison traced one of his photos for her painting. They checked with their lawyers and decided to rescind Grimm's award and give the top prize to Pete Coulter of Washington, Missouri, for his painting of two snow geese.

Pat Powers flips, calling on Congress to take names and kick tailfeathers:

This is absolutely shameful on the part of the government. They wrote the rules, but didn’t like it when someone followed them....

When bureaucrats take on 6 year old girls, it’s time to take action, and I would encourage our congressional delegation to do so [Pat Powers, "Your Federal Government at work – attacking a 6 year old for following the rules," Dakota War College, 2013.04.27].

Absolutely shameful? Good grief. The whole kerfuffle revolves around whether Grimm's pencil tracing of one of her dad's photos projected onto her canvas constitutes a violation of the Junior Duck Stamp contest rules. So let's read the rules:

Design entries must be the contestant’s original, hand-illustrated creation and may not be traced or copied from published photographs or other artists’ works. Photographs taken by the student may be used as references in the development of the design. Computers or other mechanical devices may not be used in creating artwork [p. 7].

If using a photo as reference, extensively change the “attitude” of the duck for your creation. For example, if the duck’s head is upright, draw it facing down as if it is drinking water, or turn the angle of the duck’s head. If the duck in the photo is in profile, draw the bird as if it is turning its body at a different angle. If the photo of the duck is in overall sunlight, change and paint the bird with a “sidelight.” If the duck is swimming on blue water in a published photo, paint or draw your own water ripples and make it greenish in color... [p. 17].

If using a reference painting, change it to fit your style and ideas. If you see a painting of a scene of ducks on a log, go find your own log and your own duck reference, change the species and setting, make it your own idea based on the work of another that inspired you [p. 17].

[U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, "2013 Federal Junior Duck Stamp Program and Contest"]

Entrants and their parents and teachers also sign an Authenticity and Liability Statement that includes these words:

I hereby certify that this is my original work and not copied or traced from published photos, magazines, books, illustrations, artists’ published works or other materials protected by copyright laws [Junior Duck Stamp Conservation and Design Contest Entry Form].

A photo taken by another artist is protected by copyright law. (That's why I'm not posting images of Grimm's or Coulter's paintings here, since given the concern of everyone involved here about stickler readings of the rules, I don't care to confuse the issue with a debate over fair use.) If we're going to get all sticklery over the reading of the rules—and when $5,000 in federal prize money is at stake, it's o.k. to be sticklery—the rules make it pretty clear that an entrant can't trace someone else's photo.

The point of the Junior Duck Stamp program is to encourage kids to study and appreciate wildlife and create good art. But when we have a contest with prizes, we need rules to keep things fair. The Fish and Wildlife Service is wisely following those rules. Anyone seeking to make a federal case out of this affair is quacking up the wrong stream.


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